African business, politics and lifestyle
Will Gaddafi bring change to African Union?
Libya’s often controversial leader, Muammar Gaddafi, has finally won the top seat at the African Union and promised to accelerate his drive for a United States of Africa, but it seems doubtful that even his presence in the rotating chairmanship will do anything to overcome the reluctance of many African nations to accelerate moves towards a federal government.
Gaddafi, a showman whose fiery, often rambling speeches, sometimes unconventional behaviour and colourful robes are always a scene stealer at international gatherings, has been pushing for a pan-regional govenrment for years. But like his previous, three-decade drive to to promote Arab unity, it has not aroused much enthusiasm in many quarters. All the AU’s 53 states have said they agree in principle but estimates for how long this will take vary from nine years to 35.
Gaddafi was installed as chairman on Monday, the first time he has headed the AU or its discredited predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity although his aides say he has rejected the role twice before, preferring to work as a backroom reformer. He vowed in his inaugural speech to push forward with his pet project and said if there was not a majority opposed at the next summit in July, this would mean the idea was approved – somewhat discordant with the AU’s traditional way of making decisions by consensus. AU leaders were berated by Gaddafi at a three-day summit in Ghana in 2007 for not agreeing to immediate union but braved his scorn and did not reach a deal. Regional economic power South Africa, with its considerable clout, leads the group of reluctant nations.
Delegates in Addis Ababa said privately that they felt duty bound to discuss the idea on the first day of this summit on Monday because Gaddafi is now an older statesman of the organisation and has poured money into some parts of the continent. But if anything, this meeting slowed down the process further. It agreed to change the AU Commission into a vague authority whose additional powers are not clear, and even that won’t be launched until the next summit. Outgoing AU chairman Jakaya Kikwete, the Tanzanian president, said on the one hand that the authority would have more power but on the other that member states are not willing to give up their sovereignty.
There are also those within the AU who are uneasy about Gaddafi’s prominence, given his previous alleged bankrolling of terrorism, for which he was ostracised by the West up until 2003. Then he was brought in from the cold after taking responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people and abandoning the search for weapons of mass destruction. Human rights groups also accuse his security forces of arbitrary arrest of political opponents and torture.
But whatever your views of Gaddafi, he remains a consummate showman. For years his caravan of hundreds of bodyguards, including a special all-woman unit, and his insistence on sleeping in a tent at AU summits –often in the grounds of luxury hotels–caused pandemonium among press photographers and cameramen.
At the AU summit this year, he flew a group of around 30 customary African leaders to Addis and managed, despite the objections of security men, to bring seven them into the conference hall for his inauguration as chairman. Their gorgeous robes and royal regalia rivalled Gaddafi’s own typically eye-catching golden robes and cap. One of the group, a “king’ from Benin, hailed the Libyan leader as a “King of Kings”, generating one of the most used photographs of the summit.
Is Gaddafi good for Africa or should other leaders ignore him? What do you think?